If you’ve ever needed a crown for your teeth, you know it can be a long, uncomfortable process, usually spread out over multiple visits to the dentist. First, the dentist must take impressions of the existing tooth, remove the damaged portion, and place a temporary crown. Then the waiting game begins. The permanent crown is typically fabricated off-site in a dental laboratory, a process that can take roughly two weeks.
But what if the process could be completed in one visit? 3D printing may hold the answer. As the technology improves and becomes more affordable, it may not be long before your dentist catches up to the future.
3D printing is already commonly used in dental offices to create surgical guides and dental orthodontics, like retainers and nightguards. The printed material is constructed from thermoplastic, a plastic polymer that is pliable at high temperature but strong in cool solid form.
Advancements in the technology have also opened the door for additional materials to be used in the printing, and those are coming to a dental office near you. Materials used in new printers include photorealistic ceramics and resins that look and perform just like your real teeth.
But back to you in the dentist’s chair: here’s what the process of using a 3D printer to create your new crown would look like.
First, the dentist would scan your mouth with a 3D scanning wand. The scan would be imported to a computer, where computer-aided design software would render the scan and send the data to the printer, which would take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to print. When finished, the crown would be set into place by your dentist, with no need for adjustments or temporary crowns, and no long waiting period.
The same process outlined above can be used to 3D print all kinds of dental implants, surgical guides and tools. Although the initial investment cost could run in the tens of thousands of dollars, it still costs less than running or contracting with a dental lab. Using traditional technologies, a single crown can easily cost $2,000. The cost of 3D printing can lower overhead cost, savings that can be passed on to patients.
If this technology isn’t available in your dentist’s office today, chances are it will be soon. Consumers are encouraged to check the license of their dentist at the Dental Board of California’s website.